Singled Out by God for Good

The following is an article written by Page Benton Brown on the topic of ‘singleness’. At the time of the article she was a staff member of Reformed University Fellowship at Vanderbilt University. The bottom line is that our primary identity is being secure in our relationship with Christ and knowing that we are loved by him:

Had I any vague premonition of my present plight when I was six, I would have demanded that Stephen Herbison (incontestably the catch of the second grade) put his marriage proposal into writing and have it notarized. I do want this piece to be practical, so to all you firstgraders: CARPE DIEM.

Over the past several years I have perfected the artistry of escape regarding any singles functions—cookouts, conferences, Sunday school classes, and my personal favorite, putt-putt. My avoidance mechanism is triggered not so much by a lack of patience with such activities as it is by a lack of stomach for the pervasive attitudes. Thoreau insists that most men lead lives of quiet desperation; I insist that many singles lead lives of loud aggravation. Being immersed in singles can be like finding yourself in the midst of “The Whiners” of 1980’s Saturday Night Live—it gives a whole new meaning to “pity party.”

Much has been written in Christian circles about singleness. The objective is usually either to chide the married population for their misunderstanding and segregationism or to empathize with the unmarried population as they bear the cross of “Plan B” for the Christian life, bolstered only by the consolation prizes of innumerable sermons on I Corinthians 7 and the fact that you can cut your toenails in bed. Yet singles, like all believers, need scriptural critique and instruction seasoned by sober grace, not condolences and putt-putt accompanied with pious platitudes.

John Calvin’s secret to sanctification is the interaction of the knowledge of God and knowledge of self. Singles, like all other sinners, typically dismiss the first element of the formula, and therein lies the root of all identity crises. It is not that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but that life has no tragedy like our God ignored. Every problem is a theological problem, and the habitual discontent of us singles is no exception.

Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute. 

I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children. God can no more live in me apart from the perfect fullness of his goodness and grace than I can live in Nashville and not be white. If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness, he would cease to be God.

Warped theology is at the heart of attempts to “explain” singleness:

•”As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life”—as though God’s blessings are ever earned by our contentment.

•”You’re too picky”—as though God is frustrated by our fickle whims and needs broader parameters in which to work.

•”As a single you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work”— as though God requires emotional martyrs to do his work, of which marriage must be no part.

•”Before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful”—as though God grants marriage as a second blessing to the satisfactorily sanctified. 

Accepting singleness, whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life he has given. I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single, The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.

Such knowledge of God must transform subsequent knowledge of self-theological readjustment is always the catalyst for renewed selfawareness. This keeps identity rightside-up with nouns and modifiers in their correct place. Am I a Christian single or am I a single Christian? The discrepancy in grammatical construction may be somewhat subtle, but the difference in mindset is profound. Which word is determinative and which is descriptive? You see, we singles are chronic amnesiacs—we forget who we are, we forget whose we are. I am a single Christian. My identity is not found in my marital status but in my redemptive status. I’m one of the “haves,” not one of the “have-nots.”

Have you ever wondered at what age one is officially single? Perhaps a sliding scale is in order: 38 for a Wall Street tycoon; 21 for a Mississippi sorority girl; 14 for a Zulu princess; and five years older than I am for me. It is a relevant question because at some point we see ourselves as “single,” and that point is a place of greater danger than despair. Singleness can be a mere euphemism for self-absorption—now is the “you time.” No wife to support? No husband to pamper? Well, then, by all means join three different golf courses, get a weekly pedicure, raise emus, subscribe to People.

Singleness is never carte blanche for selfishness. A spouse is not a sufficient countermeasure for self. The gospel is the only antidote for egocentricity. Christ did not come simply to save us from our sins, he came to save us from our selves. And he most often rescues us from us through relationships, all kinds of relationships.

“Are you seeing anyone special?” a young matron in my home church asked patronizingly. “Sure,” I smiled. “I see you and you’re special.” OK, my sentiment was a little less than kind, but the message is true.

To be single is not to be alone. If someone asks if you are in a relationship right now, your immediate response should be that you are in dozens. Our range of relational options is not limited to getting married or to living in the sound-proof, isolated booth of Miss America pageants. Christian growth mandates relational richness.

The only time folks talk about human covenants is in premarital counseling. How anemic. If our God is a covenantal God, then all of our relationships are covenantal. The gospel is not about how much I love God (I typically love him very little); it is about how much God loves me. My relationships are not about how much friends should love me, they are about how much I get to love them. No single should ever expect relational impoverishment by virtue of being single. We should covenant to love people— to initiate, to serve, to commit.

Many of my Vanderbilt girls have been reading ‘Lady in Waiting’, a popular book for Christian women struggling with singleness. That’s all fine and dandy, but what about a subtitle: And Meanwhile, Lady, Get Working. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to require less of me in my relationships than he does of the mother of four whose office is next door. Obedience knows no ages or stages. Let’s face it: singleness is not an inherently inferior state of affairs. If it were, heaven would be inferior to this world for the majority of Christians (Mom is reconciled to being unmarried in glory as long as she can be Daddy’s roommate). But I want to be married. I pray to that end every day. I may meet someone and walk down the aisle in the next couple of years because God is so good to me. I may never have another date and die an old maid at 93 because God is so good to me. Not my will but his be done. Until then I am claiming as my theme verse, “If any man would come after me, let him. . . “

What is the Law of God Stated in the Ten Commandments?

Q. What is the Law of God Stated in the Ten Commandments?

A. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below – you shall not bow down to them or worship them. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. You shall not covet.

In their book The Day America Told the Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim lay down the law for postmodern times. They observe that today there is “absolutely no moral consensus at all…Everyone is making up their own personal moral codes – their own Ten Commandments.” Patterson and Kim proceed to list what they call the “ten real commandments,” the rules that according to their surveys people actually live by. These rules include the following:

  • I don’t see the point in observing the Sabbath;
  • I will steal from those who won’t really miss it;
  • I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage;
  • I will chat on my spouse – after all, given the chance, he or she will do the same;
  • I will procrastinate at work and do absolutely nothing about one full day in every five.

These new commandments are based on moral relativism, the belief that we are free to make up our own rules, based on our own personal preferences. This law is not something that comes from God, but something we make up with our own minds.

How different then, is what Christians refer to as the Ten Commandments? In their original context, they were given by God to his people after delivering them out of Egypt. By giving heed to them, these Ten Commandments were to mark out their lives as distinct in their conduct from the nations around them. God’s deliverance of Israel was an act of grace and God’s revelation to them of the Ten Commandments was an act of grace (making his will and his ways known). It was grace from the beginning to end.

So, what then is the Christians relationship with the Ten Commandments? In one sense Christians are no longer under the law, but are under grace (Romans 6:14). Those in Christ have been released from the law (Romans 7:6). Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). So we are not to keep the law in order to be made right with God. One is made right with God be faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Ten Commandments, as representative of the moral law of God, endures in a general sense for Christians. The Ten Commandments were central to the ethics of the New Testament. Jesus repeated most of the second part of the law to the rich young man (Mark 10:17-22). The Apostle Paul repeated them too (Romans 13:8-10), and used them as the basis for his moral instruction to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:8-11).

Ultimately though, just as the author of Hebrews affirms, “long ago, at many times and in may ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God has spoken to us by his Son, he is the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises of the Old Testament. We are to know the Word made flesh…and be saved (John 1:14). Our response? To live in grateful obedience to the God who has made himself known. To that end, the Ten Commandments help Christians to live in God glorifying obedience to his revealed will (John 14:5).



‘He Has Set Eternity in Our Hearts’

In my Sunday sermon, I alluded to Ecclesiastes chapter 3 where God is said to have “placed eternity into every man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). In it’s context, I believe that the author is referencing a longing for transcendence wired into the fabric of our being.

In that message, I referenced James K.A. Smith’s two definitions that he supplies in his book How (Not) to Be Secular, which itself is a summary of Charles Taylor’s much larger work on Secularism.

The two definitions were: First, the ‘Immanent Frame‘ – “A constructed social space that frames our lives entirely within a natural (rather than supernatural) order. Second, the ‘Buffered Self‘ – “In the modern social imaginary, the self is sort of insulated in the natural world, no longer vulnerable to the transcendent.”

Later that day, my mind began to come back to this and to two testimonies that I believe illustrate this longing for transcendence so profoundly (that tend to show up in unguarded moments). One is from a famous nineteenth century scientist and the other is from a more recent celebrated innovator. You will recognize their names instantly.

First, Charles Darwin’s testimony from his autobiography:

“I have said that in one respect my mind has changed during the last twenty or thirty years. Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays.

I have also said that formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.

I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music. Music generally sets me thinking too energetically on what I have been at work on, instead of giving me pleasure. I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.

My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.”

This sounds like Taylor’s life in the ‘Immanent Frame’, a fixation on the natural order alone, which dulls ones sensitivity to transcendence.

Next, Steve Jobs testimony given to his biographer Walter Isaacson during their final conversation together, just weeks before Jobs’ death:

One sunny afternoon, when he wasn’t feeling well, Jobs sat in the garden behind his house and reflected on death. He talked about his experiences in India almost four decades earlier, his study of Buddhism, and his views on reincarnation and spiritual transcendence.

“I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” he said. “For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.”

He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife.

“I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe that something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.” He fell silent for a very long time.

“But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.”

Then he paused again and smiled slightly.

“Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.”

This sounds like Smith’s definition of the ‘Buffered Self,’ insulated from the transcendent until he was confronted with the reality of his own mortality. He ends by making light of what happens after we die. Not wanting to allow a foot in the door to eternity and transcendence.

I thought these were profoundly insightful testimonies to the limits of life lived solely on the natural plane, and the haunting that is still experienced, even for the ardent secularist, that there might be something more.

A Heart Warm to God and Warm to Others

A testimony of how the Lord was working on his heart as he was learning to “walk in the light” from Bishop Festo Kivengere (A Gentle Wind of God: The Influence of the East African Revival):

At one time William Nagenda and I were sharing an exhausting preaching itinerary overseas. Along the way I became jealous of the success of my brother. I became critical of everything he said. Each sentence was wrong or ungrammatical or unscriptural. His gestures were hypocritical. Everything about my brother was wrong, wrong, wrong. The more I criticized, the colder I became. I was icy and lonely and homesick. I was under conviction by the Holy Spirit, but I went on seeking to justify myself and put the blame on William. At last I repented and then had to face the difficult task of admitting my bad attitude to William. We were about to start off for a meeting where we were to preach together, and I said, “William, I am sorry. I’m very sorry. You sensed the coldness.” Yes, I felt the coldness, but I didn’t know what had happened. What is it?” “I became jealous of you. Please forgive me.” That dear brother got up and hugged me and we both shed tears of reconciliation. My heart was warm, and when he preached, the message spoke to me deeply.

The verse that continually renewed the love of the African Christians was 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” A heart that grows cold from God inevitably will grow cold toward others.

Spiritual Mentorship

A recent New York Times article on Friendship got me thinking about the power of spiritual friendship/mentorship. The late pastor English pastor John Stott, wrote movingly about his friend and mentor Eric Nash (who he always affectionately referred to as ‘Bash’):

I thank God for the man who led me to Christ and for the extraordinary devotion with which he nurtured me in the early years of my Christian life. He wrote to me every week, for, I think seven years. He also prayed for me every day. I believe he still does. I can only begin to guess, what I owe, under God to such a faithful friend and pastor.

What Does the Law of God Require?

Q. What does the law of God require?

A. Personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience; that we love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves. What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done.

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Scot McKnight, in his book ‘The Jesus Creed,’ summarizes this command in this way: “A spiritually formed person loves God by following Jesus and loves others.”

That is what we see in this passage from Matthew. It parallels the Old Testament Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4– 9), and that it lies at the heart of Christian ethics, defining one’s relationship with God (the vertical) and others (the horizontal).

v. 37 And he (Jesus) said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 

We should love God with our whole being – it is comprehensive in scope. Notice here, that it is not just “love God” but “love the Lord your God.” The object is Yahweh, the covenant God who never leaves or forsakes. Moreover, he is “your” God, so that one’s love for him is simply the response of one who has already been loved completely and lavishly.

v. 38 “This is the great and first commandment”

Loving God is not only the “greatest” commandment but also the most important, “first” in priority and the beginning of all Christian ethics. The command to love God is framed with “great”, and to it is now added “first” for emphasis. This is the supreme commandment that has within it all the others. In fact, love for neighbor flows out of it.

v. 39 “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” 

This Old Testament reference comes from Leviticus 19:18 and is the companion duty to loving God. Love for others flows out of and is made possible by love of God, both experiencing God’s love and returning that love to God. Followers of Christ cannot claim to love or serve God if they are not loving those around them. Jesus illustrates this brilliantly in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-29).

“As yourself,” means to have as deep and sacrificial a love for those around you as you have for yourself. This is not a “self-disregard” or “other-centeredness” that involves denial of self (that is true of our relationship with God) but rather a consideration and care for others that is a necessary part of Christian discipleship and as a aspect of your love for God.

The answer to the Catechism question concludes with: What God forbids should never be done and what God commands should always be done. That is total obedience. That is what the Law of God requires.

Our love for God is total. His love for us is complete and absolute. Our love from our neighbor flows from this dual reality: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:11, 19-20).

The only one to do this perfectly? You guessed it: Jesus.

Decisive Love

Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned, along with her two sisters (Betsie and Nollie), her brother (Willem), and her father for having hidden Jews in their home during World War II. Her father died ten days after the arrest, and Nollie and Willem were released from prison shortly after their arrest.

Betsie died much later after she and Corrie had spent some time in a concentration camp. Corrie was finally released because of a clerical error.

Two years after the war ended, Corrie had just finished speaking at a meeting in Munich when she saw one of the guards from the concentration camp where she and her sister had been held. Immediately, her mind flooded back to an image of her sister Betsie walking past this man, stripped of her clothes and dignity. Now the same guard was approaching Corrie.

“A fine message, Fraulein!” he said, “How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea.”

Corrie had just spoken on the topic of forgiveness, but rather than taking the man’s hand, she fumbled with her pocketbook.

The guard informed her that he had been a guard at Ravensbrüc and added “But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there. But I would like to hear it from your lips as well.”

Again, his hand came out, “Fraulein, will you forgive me?”

Corrie writes, “I stood there – I whose sins had every day to be forgiven – and I could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?”

As Corrie stood there, she pondered a difficult choice. She knew in her heart that there was no question of not forgiving. For she understood that “the message that God forgives has a prior condition that we forgive those who have injured us.” In fact, she had just spoken on the necessity of forgiveness, the need to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ.

And still, says Corrie, “I stood there with coldness clutching my heart.” Emotionally frozen, Corrie reasoned that “forgiveness in not an emotion.” Instead, she reminded herself that forgiveness “is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

She prayed silently, “Jesus help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling…And so woodenly, mechanically, I stretched my hand out to his stretched out hand to me.”

Just at that time something amazing happened. “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands, and then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”

Corrie cried out, “I forgive you my brother, with all of my heart!”

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”

As has been said, “Christian love is decisive love. And that often means loving when you don’t feel like doing so.”




How Can We Glorify God?

Q. How can we glorify God

A. We glorify God by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and by obeying his will, commands, and law.

Glory, in the bible (Hebrew – kabod/Greek doxa), means something along the lines of “splendor, weight, dignity, honor, gravitas” (you get the picture). So, to glorify God then is to ascribe worthiness to him, by enjoying him, loving him, trusting him, and obeying is will, commands and law (2 Corinthians 4:15; Ephesians 3:21).

It is evident in this expansive definition then, that living for God’s glory is not just restricted to what we may do at church or in our own private devotions. No, it is far grander than that. Living for God’s glory is a whole life experience (1 Corinthians 10:31), that comes from knowing God.

That is just why Johann Sebastian Bach (a devout Lutheran), when satisfied with his compositions, would write on them “S. D. G.” for Soli Deo Gloria (Latin for “glory to God alone”). For through his music he wanted to sound out the beauty and glory of God.

Against everything we are told today, happiness is not found in ourselves—in appreciating our own beauty or convincing ourselves of it. Deep, lasting, satisfying happiness is found in the all-glorious God. All of which is really just another way of saying along with the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Question: What is the chief end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.